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Pennsylvania trooper mourned; town on edge as killer is sought

Local schools have shut down. So have some businesses, either out of inconvenience or fear.

With hundreds of law enforcement officers scouring nearby roads and cabins in search of a killer, it’s not uncommon to see police peering cautiously into the woods of eastern Pennsylvania.

Eric Matthew Frein, 31, suspected of fatally shooting one Pennsylvania state trooper and critically wounding another last week, is now one of the FBI’s most-wanted fugitives. And nobody knows where he is, or what he might do next.

The net of fear has been cast wide, and officials refuse to rule out whether Frein might have left the state. Twenty-five miles away in Scranton, where Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Bryon Dickson received a Catholic burial Mass on Thursday, snipers watched over the hundreds of mourners and state troopers from across the U.S. who had gathered to say goodbye.

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“We gather here in sorrow, disbelief and anger. But most importantly, we gather here in faith. The singular question many of us are asking is why — why did this heinous act of violence take place?” the Rev. Thomas M. Muldowney told those in attendance in St. Peter’s Cathedral. “Why are there intrinsically evil people in this world?”

In picturesque Hawley, a town of about 1,200 residents near the epicenter of the manhunt, everything from vacation cabins to garages have become potential hiding spots for Frein, a military reenactor and self-taught survivalist who disappeared from his home in the Pocono community of Canadensis, Pa., with an AK-47 assault rifle and a .308-caliber rifle with a scope, authorities say.

He is suspected of harboring a long-standing grudge against police and government, and also may have delusions of being an Eastern European soldier.

“We’re all terrified, especially us girls working alone in the shop. He could be anywhere,” said Lyndsey McCole, 22, who works at the 4 Paws Only pet grooming salon in the center of Hawley, where business has dropped because residents are afraid to leave their homes.

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“There were helicopters flying over our house in the middle of the night,” said resident Jessica Hinchman, 24. “We’ve heard now that he’s impersonating a cop, so you don’t even know if it’s safe to open the door to police.”

Even the legitimate police presence in town was unsettling. “They’re all over the place and ready to go,” Hinchman said. “I don’t want to be driving with my kids and get caught in a shootout.”

Police have moved their staging area to the Pike County Training Center, deep in the Delaware State Forest, about two miles east of the state police barracks where the shooting occurred.

According to a criminal complaint, Frein opened fire Friday with a .308-caliber rifle, hitting Dickson twice from long range.

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He wounded Trooper Alex Douglass, 31, of Olyphant, Pa., and nearly shot another trooper trying to help Dickson, officials said. Douglass is recovering in a hospital from a gunshot wound to his pelvis and has been speaking with authorities.

Dickson left behind a wife of 10 years, Tiffany, and two young sons, Adam and Bryon, one of whom wore a state trooper hat to honor his father during the funeral Mass.

“Right now, there’s one man with one rifle that’s committed a heinous crime, but there are hundreds of other dedicated men out there to bring him to justice,” Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan told mourners at the cathedral, who included Gov. Tom Corbett.

One of Dickson’s fellow troopers, Derek Felsman, called the slain corporal an “impeccable” man and best friend who “placed his wife and children before anything else.”

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“His uniform was always crisp and spotless,” Felsman said. “He’d spend hours upon hours shining leather gear, day after day. A day never went by when Cpl. Bryon Dickson wasn’t ready for his final inspection.” Felsman choked up as he promised, “We will take care of Tiffany and the boys.”

Speakers said that Dickson was a Marine for four years before attending Pennsylvania State University. He then became a state trooper, often working the late shift, where he tried to catch drunk drivers.

“Bryon was a man of humility,” Felsman said. “He never acknowledged his profound contributions to society.… He shied away from recognition.”

Noonan added that Dickson “was no ordinary trooper.”

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“When you talk, as I have, to his friends and colleagues who have known him throughout his career, he is someone everyone admired,” Noonan said. “His motivation was to help people and do what’s right.... He loved the Pennsylvania State Police, and his job meant a great deal to him.”

Noonan said Dickson’s would be the 95th name on the state police memorial for officers killed in the line of duty.

To the sounds of bagpipes and church bells and with a Marine color guard standing at attention, hundreds of troopers in formation saluted as six trooper pallbearers carried Dickson’s flag-draped coffin down the steps of the church and into a hearse.

jacqueline.palochko@mcall.com

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lmason@mcall.com

matt.pearce@latimes.com

Palochko and Mason of the Allentown Morning Call reported from Pennsylvania, Times staff writer Pearce from Los Angeles.

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